Getting Past Your Fear Of The Unknown

Everyone that attends a private trucking school or company paid CDL training program goes through a mixture of emotions. Fear and reservation combine with excitement and eagerness, then tops off with loneliness and despair. It's hard to imagine that others are going through the same thing, or have already taken this roller coaster ride of emotion.

The terminals buzz with new students asking questions, discussing the truck models they want and hoping to get an awesome trainer. When that student gets on the backing pad, reality sets in as frustration and defeat washes over him. Questions fly through his/her mind, “What if I never learn to back this huge thing? What if this was a colossal mistake? What if I fail? Can I get my old job back?”

Sound familiar? All of that anxiety is really a fear of the unknown.

The Challenges Of A New Career

It's not a matter of “Can I learn to drive a truck?” That answer is yes. Millions of people around the world have learned to drive these rigs, so why not you? It's your fear of the unknown that is your biggest obstacle.

Learning something new is always challenging and takes time. In our “instant gratification” societ of today we all want everything immediately. We don't want to take two months to learn how to downshift in a manual transmission or six months to back the trailer. A whole year to learn trip planning and time management seems unfathomable to most people, but that is the reality of trucking.

When a student finishes training he hopes the term “solo driver” or “A seat” will magically transform him into the perfect driver, but it doesn't. He then yearns for the day when things calm down and become routine. Unfortunately, the changes never stop, so there is always a little uncertainty.

Over the road trucking is a series of changes both on a daily basis and over time. Even if a new driver understands company procedures, he is still becoming familiar with the interstates and truck stops along the way. Finding every new customer is difficult and scary, and finding parking can be a major source of stress.

Over time, a comfort level sets in and even though the customers still cause some tension, the highways and parking areas become etched in his mind. Eventually, many of the customers provide comfort as the driver learns which ones have overnight parking or are drop and hook facilities, and which ones have parking or truck washes nearby.

But just when the driver feels completely at ease, the universe throws a new wrench into his bliss. The roads are under construction, detours are everywhere, and the overnight parking at a well-known customer is no longer available. This is going to happen throughout your trucking career and throughout life in general.

The Changes Never End In Trucking

After I finally got the backing, trip planning, and time management down, I became a trainer. That was a whole new experience. After I developed my own curriculum, tweaked the best ways to get things done during training, and refined managing the logbook hours of service clocks for a team, my company changed over to auto-shift transmissions.

Oh no! More change, and I hate change.

A few months later with the next trainee my truck wound up in the shop and I was placed in yet another truck. This time a brand new one, with even more gadgets, gauges, and beeping than any of my previous trucks. I went from a manual transmission to a truck with push button gears, and now the most recent one has a gearshift wand on the steering wheel. Completely different, and it made me feel incompetent.

Welcome to trucking! There is hope for all of you who hate change as much as I do.

The major changes take place early in your training, and as time goes on, the changes become less tumultuous and less frequent. Even though my new truck was intimidating, I took solace in knowing that any assistance I needed or the answers to any questions I had were just a phone call away.

Over the years I have learned who is more knowledgeable in the various departments of my company and who can direct me to resources I may need. Despite the craziness that sometimes occurs in trucking, I'm filled with relief when I see the sign at the terminal that says, “Welcome Home!” The refuge of the terminal and the instant family feel I have with the other drivers eases any of my reservations about upcoming changes.

No matter what, I have a support team to help, and on more than one occasion, I have called my Fleet Manager saying, “Help, I need you for emotional support.” He usually chuckles, thanks me for not yelling at him as some other drivers do, and asks how he can make my life easier. For all of these reasons, I can't even imagine changing companies. It would take a lot for me to do so. Starting over and having to establish myself again as a trusted driver would probably frustrate me. I would also have to learn to trust a new support team. Again, that is all fear of the unknown.

Whenever I made a career move I felt incompetent. As an over-achiever I would immerse myself into every aspect of my job and read every book, report, or website I could find on the subject. I not only gained a level of competence, but became somewhat of an expert in as many areas as I could that were related to my new job. I have already read the owner's manual, websites, reviews, and watched videos regarding my new truck. That's just me, and that's how I tackle change and my fear of the unknown.

Everyone Faces Tough Times In Trucking

Most new drivers fear backing the truck and getting in accidents. My first month solo I turned into the wrong driveway at a truck stop. I came in facing the fuel lanes and when I tried to swing around to get into a pump, I got distracted. BAM! I hit the huge yellow barrier blocking the fuel pump.

The manager came out yelling, asking “Did you see what you did?” Uh, yeah! My axle is now sitting on the ground. That's pretty hard to miss.

As I backed up, a tire went rolling away and entered the street. One of the workers jumped on a forklift and chased the tire. I tried to back up, which I was already terrible at even when the equipment was functioning properly, but with a hanging axle it seemed next to impossible. The whole trailer was banging from side to side, trucks were zipping around me, and drivers were pointing and laughing. I jumped out of the truck yelling at the drivers behind me, “Hey! Obviously I suck at driving forward, and you guys want to risk your lives walking behind me? You know I can't see you!”

It was one of the most embarrassing and defeating times of my life.

When my company questioned me, I admitted my fault and how I allowed myself to get distracted. Talking to my Fleet Manager was reminiscent of when I “borrowed” the car without permission as a teenager. Like a father who didn't need to express his disappointment, he asked what happened. That was it. His tone said the rest.

After writing the accident report and dealing with Road Assist, Safety, and my Fleet Manager I waited for a towing company to fix the trailer and swap the product I was carrying onto another trailer. The whole process took about 9 hours, and the entire time I assumed I was losing my job. Fear of the unknown swarmed around in my head, along with visions of future jobs, bills, and house hunting. I knew the hammer would drop at any moment telling me to return to the terminal for reprimand and termination.

Then another driver from my company approached and said, “I know you are upset, but I want to buy you dinner and tell you the story of my accident four years ago.” His first week solo, he backed into a dock on a steep incline and never considered if he needed to slide the tandems before backing. He ripped the bottom of the reefer fuel tank open, spilling 50 gallons of diesel all over the yard, and requiring Hazmat cleanup procedures to be implemented.

The police came to verify the cleanup, and he felt the same way I had. Embarrassed. Terrified. Alone.

He asked me all sorts of questions, and then finally said, “If they are allowing you to deliver the load, you aren't fired. They would have made you drive the wrecked trailer to the terminal, not the product to the receiver.” When we parted, he said to me, “One day you will laugh about this, and hopefully you can help other drivers. Someone was there to calm me down, and I hope I helped you.” Sadly, I didn't get his name or phone number, but the spirit of his good deed lives on.

Since that time I've heard countless “rookie accident” stories. Amazingly, all of these drivers still drive for their original company, years later. It's not about being trapped, or not being able to find a job elsewhere. It's about learning from one's mistakes, becoming the best driver you can, and having a sense of loyalty toward the company who stood by you as a rookie driver who made mistakes.

No driver is perfect, and no one expects you to be. They expect mistakes, but they expect improvements over time.

How Can You Keep Your Fears In Check?

Identifying your fears is the first step in conquering them. Then you need to devise an action plan. Information and support can get you through almost any aspect of trucking. If you are afraid of winter driving or mountain ranges, attend training during winter months and request a trainer willing to teach you in those regions.

If your major fear is jackknifing or rolling the truck over then search the web, ask experienced drivers about tips and techniques, and ask your company for training resources. Create a support network of experienced drivers you can call during emergencies or even just to vent your frustration.

But most importantly, recognize that you are not alone.

You are not the first one having difficulty backing that trailer. Others have scraped trailers or ripped off the front end of another truck while pulling out of a rest area parking spot.

If you fear you may fail in trucking and wind up without enough money to support your family then devise a way to save a nest egg before heading off for your dream job in trucking. Knowing you have money in the bank will relieve your anxieties and prevent them from interfering with your training. Do not allow your fears to overwhelm you and create a propensity for mistakes.

Prepare yourself, tackle those fears, and have a plan in place to eliminate any unnecessary distractions during your training and your rookie year.

Good luck and Be Safe!